How Motivational Interviewing Fits into Campus Policing

20130914_152851Officers are in a unique position to talk to students. First of all, officers in uniform possess a certain level of authority or “position of power” when talking to someone just by being in uniform. Secondly, when faced with a possible enforcement situation (i.e. an underage student found in possession of alcohol), that student’s motivation to change is very high. Before that contact with the officer, the student likely was not thinking about his drinking behavior or whether he should change that behavior. There’s something about coming in contact with an officer that will often trigger thoughts about a change in behavior. Funny how that works!

Imagine being pulled over for speeding. Regardless of whether you get a ticket or not, you will spend the next few minutes or days paying more attention to your speed. These change thoughts are triggered without any evoking or talking. You are prompted by an interaction with a person in uniform.

As a campus police officer, what better time to talk about change and strengthen that motivation to change. Rather than start at a lower level and work to strengthen a student’s motivation to change, start strengthening that motivation when it is at a higher point. Starting the change process closer to the incident is key. Often students get drinking tickets, DUIs or minor possession tickets and a large amount of time goes by before they begin the sanctioning process. Court dates are usually scheduled 30 days out. In court a student might then be assigned to the next scheduled alcohol treatment program. More than a month can slip away before anyone begins to initiate the change process. If students are referred to the student conduct office, then it will be a few weeks before they enter an alcohol sanctioning class.

This time gap allows for life to go on for the students. They have moved on and resumed their lives. They then enter the programs with a lower motivation level regarding their drinking behavior. They might even be lower than before they “got caught,” as they have seen the drinking ticket wasn’t “the end of the world.”

The magic is bringing MI to the first contact when motivation for change is naturally higher. This allows a natural flow into starting the change processes before “life goes on.” When they enter the sanctioning process, the student will have already begun the change process and will ideally move through the processes farther.

After I met with our pot smoker and walked him through MI, the next step was his meeting with the student standards office to discuss the incident. This was done so that the school could get his side of the story and then from there, the staff members were able to determine the best route for sanctioning. What’s important to point out is that this entire process—in the field from me as a cop, to the student standards process and during the sanctioning phase—adhered to the principles of MI. The student was continually met where he was in the MI process.

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